My summer holiday in Hobart, Tasmania had not begun quite as I had expected. A thunderstorm, a severely delayed flight and an inaccessible hostel, topped off with some bitterly cold weather that I had most definitely not packed for. Finding myself with a few hours to spare, I decided that a stroll around the CBD to orient myself, was in order.
The gathering, dark clouds had other ideas.
I had no sooner ventured out onto the streets when the skies opened and a torrential downpour began. Cursing, I sought cover under the awnings of the few shops that had them.
And that’s when I saw it from across the street. ‘Lark Distillery’.
I have never been a whisky drinker, but I could not resist the pull of the plume of smoke coming from the chimney, nor the cosy 1800s building that housed it. I ran across to the front door and pushed it open.
Immediately, a warm, yeasty aroma hit me. Unsurprisingly, I was the only patron. The young man behind the bar, took in my sodden, street-urchin appearance, and without a trace of disdain, offered me a tasting.
‘But I don’t really drink whisky,’ I protested. ‘Can I just stay in here until the rain passes?’
‘Sure,’ he replied. ‘But why not have a little taste, just to pass the time?’
He took a glass and bottle from the shelf behind him and sang a few lyrics of the Metallica song, ‘There’s whisky in the jar oh.’ He winked, and with that, I took a seat at the bar. I felt somewhat lonely amongst the long row of empty bar stools. Clearly, they were used to a greater custom.
‘So what would you like to try?’ he asked.
‘I’m in your hands,’ I admitted. ‘What would you recommend?’
‘Let’s start with the single malt. It’s a classic,’ he advised.
He poured a sample into the glass. The glug-glug and almost syrupy quality of the liquid was mesmerising.
‘This whisky is double distilled in locally crafted copper-pot stills and aged in small, 100 litre oak casks. We store our spirits for 5-8 years in smaller barrels for faster maturation,’ he explained.
I took a sip and promptly spluttered. He laughed.
‘Try throwing it back in one go,’ he suggested.
So I did.
After the initial burning sensation and urge to cough, the most amazingly delicious warmth spread from my belly to my brow.
‘Mmmm,’ I approved. ‘Nice. Smooth.’
‘Well if you like that, you’ll love the cask strength. It’s got the same smoothness but is more full bodied due to a higher percentage of Tasmanian malt. It bursts across the palate with hints of maple syrup and sweet notes of highland peat.’
‘Right,’ I said, not having a clue what that meant. Irrespectively, I nudged my glass forward and said, ‘Hit me.’
And I threw that back too.
This bloke knows what he’s talking about, I thought. It was amazing. My palate was dancing and my whole body was alive. The rain outside had faded away, and I felt all toasty and warm and happy.
‘How much alcohol is in this?’ I demanded.
‘58%’ he replied, with a twinkle in his eye, as if he knew that I was feeling tipsy already. ‘How ’bout we mix it up a little? Wanna try some gin?’
‘Gin?’ I replied with enthusiasm. Now we were speaking my language! ‘Oh yes please! Definitely’.
Again, I pushed my glass forward.
‘Now, here at Lark, we do a gin each season,’ he explained, ‘that way we can capitalise on the unique flavours available at different times of the year. This one is our summer release.’ He poured a more than generous sample.
This time, before I drank, I lifted the glass to my nose. The aromas were incredible. Bold and beautifully sweet, I inhaled a balance of citrus and rosewater with undertones of juniper and coriander. It made me think of the warmth of the summer sun. It was almost as if I could feel it on my skin.
I drank and closed my eyes with satisfaction.
‘That was good.‘ I could hear my voice starting to lilt and slur with the effects of the high alcohol content. I sat with the gin in my hand and sipped from the glass again and again. As if wanting to savour it but devour it at the same time, until every drop was gone. I couldn’t wait to see what was next.
‘This is slainte,’ he declared. ‘This is very, very special. It was developed by one of our owners in response to the strong demand for a unique Australian whisky liqueur. Slainte is the marriage of our single malt whisky and a distilled spirit of herbs and spices. The two are carefully combined to give a complexity of character, spiciness and sweetness, while maintaining the overtones of the whisky.’
I could listen to this guy talk all day! I thought. Such passion for the product.
My head was swirling, and I though I still didn’t fully understand what this whisky was all about, I had decided I liked it. Very much. I slid my glass towards him.
‘Now, Tasi,’ he began, as he pulled out a new bottle from behind the counter, ‘Tasi is something different altogether.’
‘What is it?’ I asked, my curiosity getting the better of me.
‘Tasi is a unique herbal liqueur derived from a single native Tasmanian berry.’
‘I know about the Tasi berry!’ I interjected, surprisingly myself. ‘It’s actually called a Myrtus berry isn’t it?’
‘Yes, that’s right. It’s unique to Tasmania. So this really is something you can’t find anywhere else,’ he was speaking almost reverently. ‘Pass me your glass.’
Unlike any of the other tastings, he first scooped up some ice cubes and placed then delicately in the bottom of my glass. Intrigued, I leant forward as he carefully poured. Tasi was a glorious deep yellow in colour and looked like liquid gold, flowing over iridescent rocks.
I will never forget that first mouthful. It was as if the liqueur curled around every inch of my teeth and gums. It stuck to my tongue and was like treacle down my throat. That liquid gold coated every surface it touched within my body and I felt like royalty. I smacked my lips approvingly and even moaned out loud. I appreciated every last golden drop and licked the ice cubes once my glass was drained.
It was THAT good.
I bought three bottles and thanked him for his time, his advice and his expertise. The bottles clinked as I pulled the door open and reentered the world outside.
I did not notice if it was still raining.
And I did not care.
By Sarah 2017©
Musicprompt #3 ‘Whisky in a jar’ Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie