Former Lark distillery manager Craig Johnstone has returned to Australian permanently and taken up a production role with Australian Whisky Holdings, home to Lark, Overeem and Nant.
Scotsman Johnstone originally joined Lark in 2014 after whisky roles in Scotland, Dubai and Canada with brands including Glenkinchie, Bruichladdich and the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, before returning to Scotland in 2017. After a stint as Brand Ambassador for Brown-Forman’s Scotch distilleries, Johnstone has returned to Tasmania where he was – and continues to be – a prominent personality and presenter for the industry.
Describing returning to Lark as a “special” feeling, Johnstone told Whisky Ardent today, “My two years away included some incredible experiences at GlenDronach, BenRiach and Glenglassaugh, but I now consider Tasmania home, and I’ve always thought this industry is the most exciting place to be making whisky. There is no better place to influence, and be influenced by this excitement, than in the midst of four of our iconic brands.”
The publicly listed AWH (ASX: AWY) owns the three prominent Tasmanian whisky brands as well as Lark’s gin label Forty Spotted. Johnstone returns as Quality Assurance Manager for the group, working alongside Lark Head Distiller Chris Thomson and Lark Distiller Jonnie Edwards. The group also has Alex Rowles at Overeem and Jack Sellers at Nant as respective Head Distillers.
Lark, founded by Bill and Lyn Lark in 1992, is the company’s flagship brand and the Hobart cellar door tasting room is a first stop for many Tasmanian whisky tourists. The Lark, Overeem and Forty Spotted stills are located at Lark’s Cambridge site, while Nant is produced in the Tasmanian highlands in Bothwell.
“The Lark shed has changed quite a bit,” Johnstone said. “The addition of the Overeem stills and a designated Forty Spotted setup has cranked the distilling geek levels through the roof, not to mention the experience and hunger from the team up in Bothwell at Nant. The conversations are as creative as ever and the quality of the end products continue to impress.”
I now consider Tasmania home, and I’ve always thought this industry is the most exciting place to be making whisky.
Johnstone’s return comes at an important time of growth for the company, with a steady stream of stock making its way to the mainland. It is the first time the distillery has achieved such consistency in the past 24 months. Lark and Overeem are distributed on the mainland by on-premise specialists Proof & Co, while they placed Nant with Spirits Platform, who also manage Macallan, Bruichladdich and others.
“My Tasmanian whisky Adventure so far has seen an industry grow and flourish from virtually nothing,” said Johnstone, who also runs events under the Whisky Adventures banner.
“The next few years give us the opportunity to really understand our craft and lead the way in flavour creation showing the world the skills and products Tasmania has to offer. I can’t wait to get stuck into the details with the team here and share what we dream up with the whisky drinking world.”
In May this year AWH underwent a board overhaul, with Geoff Bainbridge, a co-founder of burger chain Grill'd and David Dearie, ex-Treasury Wines, replacing Peter Herd, Terry Cuthbertson, Gary Mares and Stuart Grant. Bill Lark resigned as a Director at the same time.