Whether your interests lie in matters Tasmanian or in the world of whisky this is a desirable read. If they are in both of these fascinating domains, then it is an absolute must!
This book is in some ways controversial, which is unusual for a work on whisky, and some would say highly controversial, but that is not the reason why it is a compelling read. It is more the fact that it is packed with valuable and often hitherto unpublished information, backed up by some excellent photography and imaginative presentation, topped by the fact that the published price represents a really good buy even by today’s standards of price driven publishing, which benefits no one.
Let’s get the bad bits out of the way and then concentrate on what is so good about this book. Firstly, I do take issue with the writer’s self comparison with Alfred Barnard, the author of the classic work “The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom” published in 1887, and still regarded as the authoritative classic work on the subject. I re-wrote that book exactly one hundred years later, at the request of the original publisher, to mark the centenary of the original publication. Barnard visited 161 (not 162 as asserted in the publisher’s letter at the introduction to Lloyd’s book) distilleries across Scotland, England and Ireland in the dire travel conditions of the day. I visited all 123 licensed distilleries in Scotland and Ireland a century later in infinitely more comfortable arrangements but nonetheless still a challenging experience. Nevertheless, I would never have thought of comparing myself with my predecessor although I actually walked in his footsteps, so to speak (we each visited 72 of the same distilleries). For Bernard to do so, largely on a play on names, by having popped in and out of 21 distilleries in the relatively accessible parts of Tasmania is, frankly, quite silly. And if you are going to do such things, please get the facts right.
Equally silly is the author’s obsession with what constitutes a true blue Tasmanian whisky, whereby every component has to be home grown from the island. If that restrictive practice were to be applied in Scotland, the great industry there, which has brought quality whisky to be the world’s favourite tipple, would be turned into a cottage activity. It is enough that distillation and maturation take place entirely on the island using local water, local labour, local power and local air. It is beyond the realms of economic and commercial sense to demand that everything else – the grain, the yeast, the wood and occasionally the peat – are all 100% Tasmanian. Fledgling industries – and that is what Tasmanian whisky production still is – need encouragement not unrealistic obstacles put in their way.
Also if you are writing about other people’s endeavours you need to do it with sympathy and accuracy and always check the facts back with the originator and certainly not take unguarded comment as gospel for repeating in print without the agreement of source. And judging by the anger I have encountered amongst many of the distillers this basic principle of good authorship has been neglected in some important instances, although the most glaring examples were presumably put right before publication.
Having said all that, most of which can be put right in a subsequent edition, let me reiterate that this is an important work and one that deserves to take its place amongst the literature of whisky. Great research has been done on the forgotten distilleries of the early 19th century. A fascinating insight into early colonial history permeates the book and usefully records Tasmania’s initial brush with whisky distilling around the same time as it was being legalised and made respectable in Scotland and to some extent in Ireland, which is where it all started.
There are some workmanlike chapters on the various aspects of whisky making, which is a necessity in terms of setting the Tasmanian genre against the wider background of the whisky story more generally.
The book’s greatest merit, however, is in the individual Tasmanian distillery profiles, of which there are 21 of those in production and a further 10 “ghost distilleries” of an earlier era. And these are divided up into sensible geographical categories, which embrace both extant and departed distilleries, into five regions. Although in my own books about whisky and distilling I have consistently opted for original pen and ink drawings to illustrate my work, I have to confess that the photography here is attractive and generally sympathetic towards its subjects, although the over-exposure of the author - in 14 different photos - in his ridiculous Barnard look – alike hat detracts somewhat from the overall presentation. In Barnard’s book – and my own – the authors are invisible.
To conclude, this is a book for those who love whisky and all the lore, culture and connectivity that goes with it, and also one for every Tasmanian who is serious about their place of origin - or adoption - and for those, like myself, who visit regularly.
Since its appearance, however, there have been a number of changes in distillery ownership and new distilleries have appeared, which is testimony to the dynamism of the Tasmanian whisky industry. This does not detract, however, from the value of this work. As it had caused some controversy at the time of its release, we delayed reviewing it until sufficient time had passed for that to have died down.
This product is located in Australia.