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Tasmania’s Stories

Tassie spirits explosion

Edition 195_TasSpirits

A Tasmanian vodka made from sheep’s whey, has been crowned world’s best as the popularity of our ‘other spirits’ continues to explode.

We all know about the incredible success of Tasmanian whisky. Well, now our gins and vodkas are moving out of the shadows and shining as well.

Emboldened by whiskies' golden touch, artisan distillers are also turning their attention to these other spirits in a trend that has gained rapid momentum over the past 18 months.

Infused with exotic flavours – and created via innovative techniques – Tasmania’s gins and vodkas have been collecting some impressive international awards along the way.

Top of the list is Hartshorn Distillery, whose Sheep Whey Vodka was named best vodka at the recent 2018 World Drinks Awards in London.

This micro-distillery, tucked away at Birchs Bay, has pioneered the use of sheep’s whey – the waste curd from the Grandvewe Cheese it also produces – to create the celebrated unfiltered vodka which tastes like no other.

“This is a beautiful creamy, velvety drink that captures the sweet milky flavours of the sheep’s whey,” head distiller, Ryan Hartshorn explains.

“And it is really turning perceptions of what vodka is all about on its head.

“In the past people have dismissed vodka as just a mixer drink. What we are trying to do is get respect back for vodka so that people start seeing it in the same light as whisky.”

But Hartshorn is not the only local distillery that made waves at the awards, with the Tasmanian Moonshine Company scoring a gold medal for its triple-distilled Tasmania Vodka.

This small Hobart distillery has been selling its tipple for just on a year, and manager John Jarvis called it “a big win and very exciting.”

“Our whole focus is about maintaining the essence of a craft distillery and this includes producing in very small batches – that’s about 300 litres of vodka at a time,” he said.

Then there is Pontville’s Shene Distillery, which goes from strength to strength.

Their Poltergeist Unfiltered Gin has just won double gold at the World Spirits Award in San Francisco for the second year in a row.

Not surprisingly, the family-run distillery is “over the moon” that this “big, bold and beautiful gin” has been honoured yet again but believes much of the credit must go to Tasmania itself.

“Our award also puts the spotlight on this state’s exceptional natural ingredients,” Myf Kernke from Shene Distillery said.

“Tasmania’s pure water is perfection, and we are also blessed with amazing local botanicals to flavour the gin, not to mention native macadamia nuts and lemon myrtle that also give Poltergeist its special taste.” 

There is no doubt that this impressive haul of awards goes hand-in-hand with the rapid growth we have witnessed in Tasmania’s gin and vodka production.

And one person who has been watching this at close quarters is Kirk Pinner: the owner of Burnie’s Spirit Bar Tasmania which stocks only boutique Tasmanian beverages.

As he observes: “There has been a massive explosion in the popularity of Tasmanian gin – and to a lesser extent vodka – over the past 18 months which follows on the tail of the huge success of our whisky.”

In fact, Mr Pinner says his gin sales now equal those of whisky, with each accounting for about 40% of spirits sold.

He attributes gin's popularity to the fact that Tasmania’s artisan distillers are so willing to experiment with creative flavours. His bar for example, has 16 types of gin on the menu, including one made with hazelnuts and two from strawberries.

Vodka is not forgotten with nine varieties on offer, including a tipple produced from potatoes and another from grapes.

However, perhaps the greatest indicator that Tasmania is in the grip of a spirits frenzy, is that the two first-ever gin fairs have both sprung up over the past 14 months.

In January Hobart hosted its inaugural Ginuary which show-cased the offerings of 18 local distilleries, while in April the north-west town of Sassafras attracted a big crowd at the second Gin Festival.

Brielle Mason – from the Tasmanian Food and Wine Conservatory – organized the Gin Festival and said, “Tasmania has gone gin crazy”.

“It is definitely the new thing, the new hipster drink,” she adds.

“And there are plenty of people getting on board the ‘gin-train’ especially our whisky producers who are drawn to it because of the rapid turnaround time.

“While whisky takes years to mature, gin can be produced in a matter of weeks and from a producer’s point of view that is one of the most attractive things about it.”

Meantime, if you are hoping to jump on-board Tasmania’s spirits band-wagon be warned; there may be a bit of a wait for your key piece of equipment.

Peter Bailly is Tasmania’s master still-maker – crafting some 20 exquisite copper stills every year –   and he simply cannot keep up with demand. There is a 12-month waiting list for one of his bespoke products.

He has also noticed that orders from artisan gin and vodka producers are growing at a rapid rate.

Ten years ago virtually all of his stills were for the production of whisky, but these days nearly half will be used for those ‘other spirits’.

As Mr Bailly says: “business is definitely booming.”

Footnote: Congratulations to Sullivans Cove which has been ranked as among the top ten distilleries across the globe by influential US spirit magazine, Supercall. In March Sullivans Cove single malt single cask whisky was named world’s best in London.

Image courtesy of Kirk Pinner

12 June 2018, Edition 195

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Facts about Tasmania


Tasmania is the southernmost state of Australia, located at latitude 40° south and longitude 144° east and separated from the continent by Bass Strait. It is a group of 334 islands, with the main island being 315 km (180 miles) from west to east and 286 km (175 miles) north to south.


Tasmanians are resourceful and innovative people, committed to a continually expanding export sector. In 2012–13, international exports from the state totalled $3.04 billion. USA, China, Taiwan, India, Japan and other Asian countries account for the bulk of exports, with goods and services also exported to Europe and many other regions.


Tasmania is similar in size to the Republic of Ireland or Sri Lanka. The Tasmanian islands have a combined coastline of more than 3,000 km.


The main island has a land area of 62,409 sq km (24,096 sq miles) and the minor islands, taken together, total only 6 per cent of the main island’s land area. The biggest islands are Flinders (1,374 sq km/539 sq miles), King, Cape Barren, Bruny and Macquarie Islands.


About 250km (150 miles) separates Tasmania’s main island from continental Australia. The Kent Group of Islands, one of the most northerly parts of the state, is only 55km (34 miles) from the coast of the Australian continent.


Twice named ‘Best Temperate Island in the World’ by international travel magazine Conde Nast Traveler, Tasmania has a mild, temperate maritime climate, with four distinct seasons.


In summer (December to February) the average maximum temperature is 21° Celsius (70° Fahrenheit). In winter (June to August) the average maximum is 12° C (52° F) and the average minimum is 4° C (40° F). Snow often falls in the highlands, but is rarely experienced in more settled areas.

Annual Rainfall

Tasmania’s west coast is one of the wettest places in the world, but the eastern part of the State lives in a rain-shadow. Hobart, the second-driest capital city in Australia, receives about half as much rain as Sydney.

Annual Rainfall

Annual rainfall in the west is 2,400 mm (95 inches), but hardy locals insist there is no such thing as bad weather, only inadequate clothing. If you travel 120 km east to Hobart, you experience a much drier average of 626 mm (24 inches) a year.


The 512,875-strong community spreads itself across the land; less urbanised than the population of any other Australian state. Hobart, the capital city, is home to more than 212,000 people.

Capital City

Hobart nestles at the foot of kunanyi / Mount Wellington (1,270 m / 4,000 ft) and overlooks the Derwent Estuary, where pods of dolphins and migrating whales are sometimes seen from nearby beaches. Surrounded by thickly forested rolling hills, the city is home to the state parliament and the main campus of the University of Tasmania.

Capital City

Its historic centre features Georgian and Regency buildings from colonial times. Hobart is home port for coastal fishing boats, Antarctic expeditions and vessels that fish the Southern Ocean.

Land Formation

Mountain ranges in the south-west date back 1,000 million years. Ancient sediments were deeply buried, folded and heated under enormous pressure to form schists and glistening white quartzites.

Land Formation

In the south-west and central highlands, dolerite caps many mountains, including Precipitous Bluff and Tasmania’s highest peak, Mt Ossa (1617 m / 5300 ft). More than 42 per cent of Tasmania is World Heritage Area, national park and marine or forest reserves.


Vegetation is diverse, from alpine heathlands and tall open eucalypt forests to areas of temperate rainforests and moorlands, known as buttongrass plains. Many plants are unique to Tasmania and the ancestors of some species grew on the ancient super-continent, Gondwana, before it broke up 50 million years ago.


Unique native conifers include slow-growing Huon pines, with one specimen on Mt Read estimated to be up to 10,000 years old. Lomatia tasmanica, commonly known as King’s holly, is a self-cloning shrub that may well be the oldest living organism on earth. It was discovered in 1937.


Tasmania is the last refuge of several mammals that once roamed the Australian continent. It is the only place to see a Tasmanian devil or eastern quoll (native cat) in the wild and is the best place to see the spotted-tailed quoll (tiger cat), all carnivorous marsupials.


The eastern bettong and the Tasmanian pademelon, both now extinct on the Australian continent, may also be observed.


The Tasmanian tiger, or thylacine, was Australia’s largest surviving carnivorous marsupial and is a modern day mystery. The last documented thylacine died in captivity in 1936 and although the animal is considered extinct, unsubstantiated sightings persist.

History and Heritage

Aboriginal people have lived in Tasmania for about 35,000 years, since well before the last Ice Age. They were isolated from the Australian continent about 12,000 years ago, when the seas rose to flood low coastal plains and form Bass Strait.

History and Heritage

Descendants of the original people are part of modern Tasmania’s predominantly Anglo-Celtic population.

History and Heritage

Tasmania was originally named Van Dieman’s Land by the Dutch explorer Abel Janszoon Tasman in 1642. The island was settled by the British as a penal colony in 1803 and the original name was associated with the convict era. It was changed to Tasmania when convict transportation stopped in 1853.


A resourceful island culture has generated leading-edge niche industries, from production of high-speed catamaran ferries and marine equipment to lightning-protection technology.


Tasmanians produce winches and windlasses for some of the world’s biggest ocean-going pleasure craft; large-scale inflatable evacuation systems and provide specialist outfit-accommodation services to the marine industry.


The Wooden Boat Centre at Shipwrights Point has re-established the skills and traditions of another age and attracts students from around the world.


Tasmania is a world leader in natural turf systems for major sporting arenas and in areas of mining technology and environmental management. Its aquaculture industry has developed ground-breaking fish-feeding technology and new packaging.


Tasmanians sell communications equipment to many navies and their world-class fine timber designers and craftsmen take orders internationally for furniture made from distinctive local timber.


The state is a natural larder with clean air, unpolluted water and rich soils inviting the production of 100 varieties of specialty cheeses, as well as other dairy products, mouth-watering rock lobsters, oysters, scallops and abalone, Atlantic salmon, beef, premium beers, leatherwood honey, mineral waters, fine chocolates, fresh berry fruits, apples and crisp vegetables.


Tasmania is a producer of award-winning cool-climate wines, beers, ciders and whiskies. Other export products include essential oils such as lavender, pharmaceutical products and premium wool sought after in Europe and Asia. Hobart is a vital gateway to the Antarctic and a centre for Southern Ocean and polar research.


The industries in Tasmania which made the greatest contribution to the State’s gross product in 2010–11 in volume terms were: Manufacturing (9.4%), Health care and social assistance (8.2%), Financial and insurance services (7.2%), Ownership of dwellings and Agriculture, forestry and fishing (each 7.1%).

Getting to Tasmania

Travel is easy, whether by air from Sydney or Melbourne, or by sea, with daily sailings of the twin ferries Spirit of Tasmania 1 and 2 each way between Melbourne and Devonport throughout the year.

This site has been produced by the Brand Tasmania Council © 2014

Brand Tasmania

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