Our whisky making process

Article published at: Mar 4, 2024
Our whisky making process
All News

With all the wonderful Tasmanian whiskies that are available today, it's a bit hard to believe that it's only been 30 years since the laws changed to allow whisky to once again be sold here. Nowadays skilled whisky makers such as Bill Lark, Damian Mackey and John Ibrahim use locally-sourced ingredients to craft Tasmanian whisky and the results are as remarkable as anything to ever come out of Scotland.


The ingredients used by Callington Mill Distillery to craft our world-class whisky are relatively simple: water, malted barley and yeast. Copper stills, oak casks, and careful attention to every detail also contribute to the exceptional product that makes up Callington Mill Single Malt Whisky.

Revered as the godfather of Tasmanian whisky, land surveyor Bill Lark was on a fishing trip with his father-in-law when he had a flash of brilliance. After finishing their trout dinner, the pair postulated the reasons why Tasmania, with its ideal climate and naturally available ingredients, was no longer producing whisky. Lark purchased a copper pot still and learned how to distil at South Australia's Roseworthy Agricultural College before approaching the government for a license.

Lark contacted the Minister for Small Business and Customs and after various political steps were taken, the anti-distillery law was changed, and Lark was awarded the first post-prohibition license to make whisky in Tasmania. Today, there is a kindred brotherhood of local distilleries, including Callington Mill Distillery, that produce exceptional whisky and gin. Diverse as they are, each Taz distillery relies on the same local ingredients:


The water used at Callington Mill Distillery is sourced from the nearby Blackman River. Fed with rainfall influenced by an atmospheric phenomenon called the Indian Ocean Dipole, this pristine water source provides everything needed to grow the local malt barley that makes Taz whiskies so exceptional. Water also plays a crucial role throughout the whisky making process. During the mash, grain is incorporated with warm water. Water is also used to cool the spirits after they exit the still. After maturing in a cask, water may be added to spirits to lower its proof, or alcohol content, before bottling. So, you can see how imperative excellent water is to the making –and enjoyment of world-class whisky.


Despite Lady Jane Franklin's admonishment that Tasmanian barley be used for anything but whisky, today's Tasmanian barley growers offer much of their product for exactly that purpose. Before it can be used to craft whisky, carefully selected barley grains undergo a three-stage process known as malting:


The first step to malting involves allowing the raw grains to soak, or 'steep' in cool water just long enough to begin sprouting. After verifying the ideal moisture content of around 45 percent by weight, the barely-sprouted barley is drained, spread on malting beds, and 'air rested' prior to the second stage of the malting process.

Step two is germination, or 'modification' which typically lasts between three and seven days. During this all-important stage, moisture content and ambient temperature are carefully monitored. Too-hot and too-wet conditions can lead to mould growth, while conditions that are too cold or too dry may discourage further sprouting. In case you're wondering, moisture content determines the darkness and colour of the malted barely which can range from very pale to amber to chocolaty-brown. Once dried, the green malt barley is roasted in a peat kiln to achieve its final flavour. The third step in prepping barley for whisky-making is separation of grist and husk, after which the malted barley is milled, mashed, and coaxed to ferment.


Milled and mashed barley is placed in a vessel and mixed with hot water. At this point, any remaining starches are liquefied and enzymes within the sprouted barley become active and convert into fermentable sugars. Known as mash or wort, this sugary ferment is boosted by the addition of yeast. At Callington Mill Distillery, we employ a longer-than-usual fermentation period of seven days and avoid waste by giving our excess draff to local pig farmers.


The last, but certainly not the least important, step in the whisky-making process is maturation. This is the time when a potentially good spirit becomes excellent whisky. At Callington Mill Distillery we mature our Single Malt Whisky in oak casks sourced and crafted by our own Callington Mill Cooperage. Time-consuming as it is, we never cut corners or hurry the maturation process. Callington Mill’s Oak policy determines our whiskey profile. We focus on the best quality ex fortified wine Oak Casks from the Douro Valley in Porto Portugal and from the Sherry Triangle region Jerez de la Frontera, Andalucia Spain.

We also source the best Australian ex fortified wines. This represents 80% of our Oak strategy. In order to add layers of diversity and complexity we source the remaining 20% of our oak program from the exotic regions of the world - France - Mexico - Jamaica - South America - US - Japan. We are also trying to secure Oak supply from regions never before used in whiskey making. Once you've tasted our delightful drams, we think you'll agree that Callington Mill Distillery does whisky right.


If all this talk about whisky making has given you a thirst for the good stuff, come visit Callington Mill Distillery and try a sample or two for yourself. Or discover our whisky making process for yourself with the self-guided and guided tours. We are conveniently located at 6 Mill Lane in Oatlands, Tasmania. Head on over to our Tours page for more information and to book your guided tour. We look forward to meeting you!