‘I think he’s Australia’s best distiller for whisky right now’

Chris Thomson and Bill Lark

Lark Distilling Co has recorded net sales growth of 78 per cent year on year for the first quarter of this financial, up to $2.28m. With $107m worth of whisky under maturation, and the company making a profit for the first time, the future looks positive.

There are a number of reasons why Lark is now in such a strong position, and CEO Geoff Bainbridge told Bars and Clubs, that the amazing new-make spirit being created by Head Distiller Chris Thomson and his team is a key factor.

“There’s three things [that go into making great whisky] and apologies because I’m sure, for many whisky geeks, my explanation is not as sophisticated as they’d like,” Geoff said.

“But it’s one third new make spirit, one third the barrel and one third the Master Distiller.

“The new make spirit is the time honoured tradition of Lark, the recipe, how we handle the mash and the ferment – we’ve got a formula that works for us and our job there is to produce that consistently.

“The second thing is the barrels and the barrel for us and everyone, is critical. I think what we’ve become is incredibly good at selecting barrels.

“We’ve also been given access to some of the best barrels Warren Randall sits on our board, owner of Seppeltsfield, owner of Para Port. And we’re doing some amazing things with different barrels at the moment which are going to be amazing when we launch.”

“What I thought, naively, when I joined the business five years ago is what was put in the barrel five years ago comes out and then you figure out a way to sell it. But what Chris has really educated me on, is that we can do anything.

“And that’s where the last third comes in, the Master Distiller and the team. So I look at whether it’s Jodi, Bec, Chris, Tiff, Ollie, it’s just such a wonderful team led by Chris and I personally think he’s Australia’s best distiller for whisky at the moment.”

Geoff admits that lots of people will have their own views on that topic right now, but he explains his reasoning for the claim.

“He is at the peak of his powers. He is the right age, right experience, right palette and he’s got the energy.

“In the first year I joined we had four SKUs, this year we’ll have 16 releases. We’ll have our cask strength, our classic, our symphony and then we’ll have between 12 and 13 limited releases, and by limited there might be 200 bottles, there might 3500.

“So Chris and the team are constantly saying, ‘what else can we do?’

“The advantage is that we have inherited great liquid with great processes and we couldn’t play like this if that first third, the new make spirit was inconsistent, wasn’t to the right standard. So we’re only able to do this through the success we’ve had with the new make spirit and it’s just flourished from there.”

One of the keys as well is understanding that you have a distiller at the peak of his powers, and so by Geoff giving Chris free rein, it’s helped put Lark into a position of strength.

“I think that’s what good leaders do,” he told Bars and Clubs.

“I love my job, I love the team and I love the liquid, but that’s not my job, that’s Chris’ job.

“Craig Johnson’s come on board and he’s got such a wonderful background in the industry as well and so they are running duel-headed operations and they’re working tremendously well together.

“There’s a wonderful esprit de corps in the distilling team at the moment and there is an energy and a focus. Both Chris and Craig would say no-one out there has ever worked harder but no-one out there has ever been happier, because they are being allowed to do some wonderful projects.”

Geoff said that the focus for the team now is on getting Lark into a strong position as possible in Australia and with the company now in a strong position after equity raising and positive sales growth, the future is looking bright for this 28-year-old start-up.

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