Tasmania is world famous for its pure air, clean water, and crisp climate. And if you landed here without context, to our ‘lush crisp landscape battered by chilly seas’, pulled up to an imposing 19th century Coaching Inn, and were handed a single malt whisky, we’d forgive you for drawing parallels to Scotland.
After-all, you need a very stable, cool climate to brew the perfect malt whisky (not even modern climate controlled warehouses are as good as brewing in the perfect natural climate), and some of the purest air and water in the world.
Which is why Scottish Whisky has become so famous.
While both superb locations for making whisky, the difference of Scotland and Tasmania is that the distilling of spirits was outlawed here from 1838 to 1991. Though since the law was overturned Tasmania has experienced a craft malt Whisky revival, and the artisanal Whisky movement has earned the reputation of ‘Scotland Down Under’.
150 years was a long time for Tasmanians to wait between drinks, but the State’s pure ingredients and passionate distillers have more than made up for it since.
And that 19th century Coaching Inn? It exists! It sits at 26 Main St Kempton. 40 minutes from Hobart, the Coaching Inn is now a cellar door, with a distillery you can tour in the convict brick stables.
A Craft Whisky Distillery in an 1840’s Coaching Inn
Old Kempton Distillery, Tasmania
Old Kempton Distillery is a craft Whisky Distillery in a heritage-listed building 40 minutes from Hobart. They pride themselves on using Tasmanian Barley and Tasmanian Water to make a smooth, caramel and spice Single Malt Whisky, and you can tour the distillery, bond store, house and grounds, stop for lunch and a tasting, or simply drop in to buy their spirits.
Tasmania first started selling spirits in 1836, and Kempton has a long history as the perfect stopping point for travel between Launceston and Hobart (and still is today – perfectly positioned a minute off the main highway).
Weary travelers making the journey between North and South Tasmania would stop overnight at the Coaching Inn, where the local innkeeper would have a dram (single serving of whisky) ready to revive them.
Historic context: A Coaching Inn was a place where both travelers and their horses could rest overnight – Dysart House was the finest on the road from Hobart to Launceston.
Today the team at Kempton Distillery continue this tradition, with Tasmanian Single Malt Whisky served in the restored rooms of the same 19th Century Mansion (called Dysart House).
Producing artisanal spirits for 6 years now, their range includes Cask Strength Whisky, Small Batch Whisky, Barrel Aged Gin, Six Shillings Gun, Embezzler Gin, Apple Liqueur and their famous Lavender Malt – made using their own single malt spirit infused with handpicked lavender grown at the famous Port Arthur Lavender Farm.
Pro tip: Their Lavender Malt is a sweet, liqueur style spirit, delicious to drink neat or in a cocktail. They recommend serving it in a glass of sparkling wine, topped with fresh fresh blueberries, for a refreshing summer drink.
Though what makes Kempton unique beyond the heritage listed location (and award winning spirits!) is their commitment to 100% Tasmanian ingredients, and their artisan approach, the yeast used, and the barrel history.
The Cellar Door
The Cellar Door is located in the main rooms of Dysart House, and true to its heritage, two charmingly restored rooms are available for travelers or day trippers from Hobart to sit and relax while enjoying a home cooked meal.
The Cafe menu focuses on local Tasmanian Cuisine, with a menu of house-made Whisky beef pies, Devonshire Tea, soup and Antipasto platters (scones for Devonshire Tea are freshly made daily, and delicious. They’re also very generous with the jam and cream!).
Though they are most famous for their tastings.
The Cellar Door offers a wide variety of tastings of Old Kempton Distillery products, and they also stock a range of other Tasmanian made produce and merchandise, including Olde Spikey Bridge Peanut Butter, Tassie Settlers Whisky Sauces, Van Diemen Providore products and Truffle Products.
For tastings though, take your pick from Single Malt Whisky, Tasmanian liqueurs, or their range of gins. Lavender Malt is a local favorite, though their Apple Liqueur is also worth tasting – made from 100% Tasmanian apples with sweet, clean and subtle apple flavours it’s a great after dinner drink (and makes a great apple mojito!).
While known for their artisanal Whisky, you can also taste their award winning Embezzler Gin, named after William Ellis, the original owner of Dysart House, who was a convict embezzler turned innkeeper!
This is a London Dry style gin, also made onsite, blended with citrus, florals, spices, sweetness and ending with a traditional London dry finish. Their botanics include kafir lime, cassia, lemon myrtle and mint.
Though why stop at a tasting when you can tour the 1840’s convict granary?!
Behind the Scenes Distillery Tour
While the main manor home houses the Cellar Door, the onsite distilling takes place in the convict brick stables. Once home to 22 horses, the stables now house Old Kempton’s Tasmanian-made 600L and 900 L copper still’s.
And you can tour them!
Taking a tour is a great way to see behind the scenes of a true artisan working distillery, and being shown around by Distiller Matt is a fantastic opportunity to hear about the process directly from the man who makes it; to sample the ingredients, and smell the latest batch distilling.
Here Tasmanian barley is double distilled through copper pot stills and patiently matured in small oak casks, creating delicious, rich balanced Tasmanian Single Malt Whisky.
Worth Noting: A shiny new distillery is nearly finished next door to Dysart House, which will allow them to streamline their spirit production. Even once the stills move from the stables, you’ll still be able to tour the grounds.
Matt has an intimate knowledge of the distillery and distilling process, having built up the stock himself, and has a particular skill for describing the operation in plain English for those who are uninitiated in the world of Whisky (like myself!).
His passion for his craft, and friendliness in inviting visitors into his workspace transcends the typical tour experience – you feel as though you’re genuinely being shown around by a mate; a mate who tells the story of whisky and gin with samples – and pours generously directly from the stills!
Each tour includes:
➤ A brief history of Dysart House;
➤ A history of Old Kempton Distillery;
➤ Behind the scenes tour of the working distillery;
➤ Access to their distillery and bond store
➤ Fully guided tasting of 4 Old Kempton Spirits
Uniquely, Old Kempton Distillery have produced Tasmania’s first Whisky Solera Tun, which is a 500L Portugese Port Barrel that is repeatedly half emptied, released, refilled, and left to age again. This process creates a whisky you won’t ever replicate again.
Photos from the Tour
How to Get There
Old Kempton Distillery is at 26 Main Street Kempton – 40 minutes from Hobart, and a short 1 minute drive off the Midlands Highway, 2 hours south of Launceston (it used to be The Redlands Distillery, though moved from their old location in the Derwent Valley in late 2015).
It has a fantastic focus on supporting local, and not only prioritizes Tasmanian ingredients for their spirits and cafe, but also hires locals and stocks local small businesses in their Cellar Door.
With distillery tours and tastings, a cafe, a Whisky club, and a beautiful heritage listed colonial estate you can freely explore, Old Kempton Distillery is a must visit for both locals and visitors to Tasmania.
With tastings in an 1840’s convict granary, and exceptional spirits, Old Kempton Distillery is one of the most unique and memorable experiences on the Tasmanian Whisky Trail.
Visit www.oldkemptondistillery.com.au for more information or to make a booking. You can walk-in for tastings or the cafe, though we highly recommend booking if taking a tour (tours run daily).