From world-beating whiskey makers to snufflers of the finest-tasting truffles and growers of snails so succulent they would shine in any French bistro, Tasmania somehow squeezes more master craftspeople into its 68,000 square kilometres than perhaps any other island in the world.
Singular island, that is. Japan, the home of INFINITI, is made up of around 430 inhabited islands, and several of those might come close, because they too contain a populace that knows a thing or two about perfectionism and craftsmanship.
Still, maybe it’s something in the Tasmanian water. Or what’s not in it; because what flows from the taps and down the pristine and protected rivers here is a crystal-clear wonder, and it’s routinely named Australia’s most pure H20.
Or maybe it’s the land itself, with the residents of this heart-shaped island somehow born with a need to pour their own hearts and souls into their creations.
Whatever the reason, the people of Tasmania are clearly more driven than most when it comes to pursuing their infinite potential.
So join us for the first chapter in this three-part series as we tour Australia’s artisan island in the stunning INFINITI Q60 Red Sport, and set out to meet our makers.
Launceston Distillery - Chris Byrne
Any chance we had of keeping the quality of Tasmanian whiskey a secret disappeared back in 2015, when Hobart distillery Sullivans Cove was crowned maker of the world’s best single malt.
Those rivers of single-malt gold have spread in the years since, criss-crossing Tasmania via a series of incredible small-batch distilleries that now dot the island, making up the hugely popular Whiskey Trail, which draws visitors from all over the world.
The very newest of these is the Launceston Distillery; the city’s first whiskey producer in 175 years, and a wonderfully Tasmanian operation every step of the way.
Those shining stills were designed and built by Hobart-based specialist Peter Bailly, a master craftsman in his own right, and the only maker of copper stills in Australia. The barley used is Tasmanian-grown, too, from a highly sought-after crop known to be among the most flavoursome in the world. Even the barrels, originally used to store sherry and tawny port, were built in Hobart.
It’s in the expert hands of chief distiller Chris Condon that those world-class ingredients are transformed into fine single malt. He began filling those barrels back in October 2015, but such is the slow-food nature of distilling quality whiskey, the first batch was only bottled in June this year.
“It’s a very patient game; the 20-litre casks from 2015 were decanted and bottled this time, but the 100-litre casks will take another two and a half years to mature,” distillery director Chris Byrne explains.
“Alongside our water, Tasmania’s barley is probably the world's best. It has the most flavour, and just the one malting house supplies all the distilleries and breweries, from us to James Boag’s.”
Just one warming sip of this wondrous whiskey was enough to confirm it’s been worth the wait, and to brace us against the wind-chilled walk back to the climate-controlled cabin of the Q60, which, helped by the heated front seats, keeps the biting Tasmanian winter locked outside our windows.
But what a view it is out there. At this time of year the low and warmth-less sun brings an ethereal, almost impressionistic light to the endless rolling green hills and rugged forests of this unspoiled wilderness. And the roads that carve their way through this gorgeous greenery are supremely special as well.
The sweeping, smooth corners are the perfect place to explore the grip and effortless power of our Q60 Red Sport as we head off in search of our second maker.
To be continued... read part 2 here.