Mark Chipperfield talks to Jon and Sarah Lark, owners of Australia's first gin focussed distillery Kangaroo Island Spirits.
Changing careers in your 40s is something many of us dream about, but few have the courage to attempt – especially if the new venture involves moving to an island off South Australia and building a gin distillery from scratch.
But that’s exactly what Jon and Sarah Lark did in 2006 with the launch of Kangaroo Island Spirits, a micro distillery which makes small-batch artisan gins using wild botanicals like coastal daisy bush, samphire, wild rosemary, lemon myrtle and native juniper (Myoporum Insulare).
“My wife Sarah and I first thought about running our own distillery at our wedding in 2000,” Jon, now 53, recalls
“There were a lot of whisky guys around at that time, including my brother Bill in Tasmania, but we’d already begun to pick up on the incredible resurgence in gin-making that was coming out of Europe at the time.”
Brother of Tasmania’s whisky godfather
Unlike his older brother Bill Lark, now widely acknowledged as the godfather of Tasmania’s celebrated artisan whisky industry, Jon Lark was convinced that that Kangaroo Island would be the perfect spot to create bespoke Aussie gins.
“We were very keen to develop Australia’s very first gin focussed distillery using traditional methods but in a contemporary Australian way,” he says.
“We sometimes describe them as slow gins – they are very much an expression of South Australia and, in this case, Kangaroo Island.”
Despite its modest gin making capacity (the 80-litre copper pot can only produce 100 bottles per day) Kangaroo Island Spirits has gone on to win several major international gin competitions, including those in London, Hong Kong, New York and San Francisco, and has also become one of the must-do foodie experiences on the island.
In addition the company’s artisan gins, visitors to the farmhouse-style cellar door can also taste a number of exotic liqueurs and vodkas, including its Honey and Walnut Liqueur made from roasted walnuts and Ligurian honey and its delicious KIS Lemoncello, featuring organic lemons.
“Kangaroo Island has fantastic honey, nuts and organic fruits and herbs,” says Jon.
“We like to use as many of this fantastic produce as we can.
Where the wild things are
As relative newcomers to Kangaroo Island, the Larks are still discovering new things about their island home and particularly enjoy the local food and wine scene – and the scope for outdoor adventure, both on land and sea.
“One of the great things about Kangaroo Island is that you can always find an empty beach, but many people come here with the preconceived idea that it’s a small place – but, of course, it’s Australia’s third largest island. "I believe you need at least three days to get around and see the island properly.’’
After almost a decade of living on Kangaroo Island, the couple are still relishing the local culinary scene which is constantly changing – they are currently enjoying the new pop-up restaurant (Hannaford & Sachs) at Snellings Beach and the new-look menu at Kangaroo Island Lodge, overlooking American River.
“We actually moved here to set up a gin distillery because there was an emerging food and wine industry already on the island,” he says.
“We’ve discovered that tourism and gin making is a match made in heaven.
"One day I’d like Kangaroo Island to be like Islay [in Scottish Hebrides] and have 10 craft distilleries here.”
Visit the cellar door Wednesday to Monday, 11am to 5pm (open seven days during public/school holidays) or by appointment outside these times. Small groups and special events catered for with prior arrangement.