Old Kempton Distillery

Tasmanian Single Malt from a Bill Lark-inspired Hidden Gem

Established in 2012 by Peter and Elizabeth Hope and family, the operation began in the Derwent Valley as Redlands Estate. The aim was to produce a true paddock-to-bottle single malt whisky—a Tasmanian Kilchoman. Joining them as investors and consultants to help them achieve this were industry stalwarts, Bill and Lyn Lark. In 2015, the distillery took an opportunity to move to the heritage-listed Dysart House in Kempton, less than an hour north of Hobart. They renamed their distillery Old Kempton in honour of their new, old home.

The man behind the still is distiller Rob Tyson. Tyson has worked in the Tasmanian Whisky trade since his Uni days, starting behind the bar at the Lark Distillery and staying with them for the next 10 years. During his tenure, Tyson worked in every facet of the business, from cellar door to operations, to distillation, before, at the request of Bill Lark himself, graduating to the role of Head Distiller at Old Kempton in early 2021.

Like the majority of Whisky producers in Tasmania, Old Kempton purchases their wash from a brewery. Unlike most, Tyson works very closely with the brewer—Last Rites in Cambridge, Tasmania (also the source for the Sullivan’s Cove wash)—and specifies grain selection, yeast selection and fermentation times. Significantly, Tyson is moving brewing in-house in the coming months, a decision made easier because his off-sider Nick has a brewing background in Brisbane (White Lies in QLD). This is an essential step for Old Kempton’s fermentation equals flavour ethos. Utilising local water and local barley and fermenting in-house will allow them to better “capture their time and place” and further refine the Old Kempton style.

Old Kempton uses only Tasmanian-grown and malted barley and has what Tyson describes as a “fairly traditional approach” to distillation. Double distillation is in Knapp Lewer copper pot stills (one of Australia’s few makers of copper stills) that take through the heavy oils—a signature of the Old Kempton style—and maturation almost exclusively takes place, from start to finish, in the nominated cask, rather than just finishing.

Until now, Old Kempton has remained something of a hidden gem on the Tassie Whisky scene. Frankly, their spirits are far too good not to reach a wider audience. The Old Stables recently brought home the award for Best Australian Small Batch Single Malt Whisky at the 2022 World Whisky Awards.

Tyson’s deep understanding of the need for different approaches for different cask programmes is central to the character and quality of Old Kempton Whiskies. The distilling team works closely with cooperages and winemakers to source the highest quality casks. The inventory is roughly one-third ex-Australian Tawny, one-third Bourbon and, unusually, one-third Pinot Noir, with some room for discretionary inclusion of Sherry, Rum and Tokay as they crop up. The Pinot Noir casks are primarily sourced from Stefano Lubiana and Frogmore Creek. Seppeltsfield and Yalumba provide the lion’s share of the Tawny casks, and it’s the usual suspects for the Bourbon casks; Jack Daniels, Buffalo Trace and Wild Turkey, among others. Most of the barrels get a light shave, a medium toast and a heavy char before use.

The Old Kempton Whisky range is all Single Malt. The Old Stables and the Cask Strength Coachhouse represent the house-style Whiskies, incorporating a range of different casks to highlight the rich malt character of the Old Kempton spirit. Then there is the Classic Range comprising Ex-Port and Ex-Pinot Noir cask Single Malts. And finally, there is the Solera Cask Single Malt, currently drawn from a 500-litre Portuguese Port cask.

Alongside the Whisky programme, Old Kempton also crafts a range of small-batch Gins, named after William Henry Ellis. Ellis was sent from England to Australia in 1825 following a conviction for embezzlement. He arrived in Tasmania, and by all accounts married rather well, going on to build the Dysart House that is now home to the Old Kempton Distillery. There are three Gins in the range: a London Dry style, a fruity summer style and a barrel-aged Gin. Finally, two delicious liqueurs—an apple and a lavender malt—are made from Tasmanian ingredients to perfectly capture seasonality and place.

The Range

Old Kempton Christmas Release 2023 (500ml)
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Old Kempton Christmas Release 2023 (500ml)

The inaugural Christmas release from Old Kempton is another small batch run. This year’s Whisky is a selection of single malts aged in premium Australian Tawny casks, with a small inclusion of Whisky aged in Apera cask. The Whiskies were hand-selected by head distiller Rob Tyson for their rich, deep, festive spice character; he sought to conjure up memories of “log fires and Old Gold chocolate”. He’s nailed it. The combination of the Tawny Port and Apera casks brings lovely harmony to the Whisky, combining the classic plum pudding, brown sugar and tobacco leaf characters of the former with the warm spice, white pepper and structural frame of the latter. 

Old Kempton Christmas Release 2023 (500ml)
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Old Kempton Whisky Showcase Gift Set (3x50ml)
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Old Kempton Whisky Showcase Gift Set (3x50ml)

The Old Kempton Whisky Showcase Gift Set includes a 50ml bottle each of their Old Stables Single Malt Whisky, Classic Pinot and Coachhouse, as well as an Old Kempton branded Wee Glen Cairn glass. The Old Stables Single Malt Whisky was recently named “Best Australian Small Batch Single Malt Whisky” at the 2022 World Whisky Awards. Like all Whiskies at this distillery, the wash is double-distilled in squat Knapp Lewer copper pot stills made in Hobart. The spirit was then aged for five to six years before blending and bottling in a combination of ex-Australian Tawny (around 60%) and Apera casks (20%), with the balance composed of Pinot Noir, Bourbon and a small proportion of fortified Shiraz. It's a rich and powerful Whisky with lovely intensity and balance. The Classic Pinot Single Malt was matured in casks from Frogmore Creek and Stefano Lubiana. The base is similar to the other bottlings: 100% Tasmanian barley wash, double-distilled in copper pot stills. Considered a difficult style to master, Tyson pulls it off with aplomb. It’s a vibrant and viscous Whisky, fruity with lingering charry depth. The Coachhouse is the linchpin of the Old Kempton range, blended to represent the house style, from casks especially chosen as having richer flavours and a more robust back palate. It is also bottled at cask strength for intensity and body. The spirit is aged for five to six years in a mix of Pinot Noir, Sherry, Port and Tokaji casks. It’s a deep, layered, detailed Whisky, full-bodied and complex with a lasting close.

Old Kempton Whisky Showcase Gift Set (3x50ml)
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Old Kempton Premium Whisky Gift Set (3x50ml)
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Old Kempton Premium Whisky Gift Set (3x50ml)

The Old Kempton Premium Whisky Gift Set includes a 50ml bottle each of their Premium Single Malt Whiskies: Classic Port, Solera and Coachhouse, as well as an Old Kempton branded Wee Glen Cairn glass. The Classic Port Single Malt, like all Whiskies at this distillery, is double-distilled in squat Knapp Lewer copper pot stills made in Hobart. The spirit was then aged for five to six years before blending and bottling. The casks are sourced from Seppeltsfield and Yalumba in South Australia and had previously housed Tawny Ports with an average age of 30-40 years. The shaving level depends on the age of the barrel (the older, the deeper), but the toast is always medium, and the char is always heavy. It’s a mouth-filling, complex and warming Whisky with layers of spice, caramel and cocoa nibs and a lengthy finish. Old Kempton’s solera was started in 2017. The system currently consists of one 500L Portuguese Port cask, which is drawn from and topped with 250 litres of stylistically similar spirit from the cask program every six to nine months. Like all Old Kempton Whiskies, the base spirit started life as a 100% Tasmanian barley wash and was double-distilled in the distillery’s copper pot stills. It’s a rich and profoundly complex Whisky layered with fruits, spice, nuts and a malty, caramel-flecked finish. The Coachhouse is the linchpin of the Old Kempton range, blended to represent the house style, from casks especially chosen as having richer flavours and a more robust back palate. It is also bottled at cask strength for intensity and body. The spirit is aged for five to six years in a mix of Pinot Noir, Sherry, Port and Tokaji casks. It’s a deep, layered, detailed Whisky, full-bodied and complex with a lasting close.

Old Kempton Premium Whisky Gift Set (3x50ml)
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Old Kempton The Old Stables Single Malt Whisky (50ml)
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Old Kempton The Old Stables Single Malt Whisky (50ml)

This is named after the old stables located on the Dysart Estate, now the home of the distillery. Old Kempton’s wash is 100% Tasmanian-grown and malted barley, made a short drive away at Cambridge. Distiller Rob Tyson works very closely with the brewer from the outset to ensure it is made to measure. Like all the Whiskies at this distillery, the wash was then double-distilled in squat Knapp Lewer copper pot stills (made in Hobart). The spirit was then aged for five to six years before blending and bottling (in a combination of ex-Australian Tawny (around 60%) and Apera casks (20%), with the balance composed of Pinot Noir, Bourbon and a small proportion of fortified Shiraz. Along with being the introduction to the Old Kempton story, this is also the most approachable in the range. It's a rich and powerful Whisky, with lovely intensity and balance. 

Best Australian Small Batch Single Malt Whisky
2022 World Whisky Awards
Old Kempton The Old Stables Single Malt Whisky (50ml)
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Old Kempton Lavender Malt Liqueur (350ml)
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Old Kempton Lavender Malt Liqueur (350ml)

Old Kempton Distillery’s home of Dysart House is surrounded by lavender during the summer months, and the heady fragrance and vibrant colour during this time inspired this Lavender Malt Liqueur. It's produced from flowers from the Port Arthur Lavender Farm, the heads steeped in Old Kempton malt spirit (the same as the Whisky base pre-cask). It is sweetened with sugar and coloured with butterfly pea flower before bottling. It’s an excellent addition to bubbles, cocktails or mixed with the Embezzler Gin to make a lavender version of an Aviation cocktail.

Consumers Choice Award
SIP Awards 2021
Double Gold - Liqueur
SIP Awards 2021
Old Kempton Lavender Malt Liqueur (350ml)
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Old Kempton Apple Liqueur (50ml)
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Old Kempton Apple Liqueur (50ml)

With a recipe by Lyn Lark—who was inspired by local apple producers—this recipe holds a special place in the Old Kempton team’s heart. Tasmanian apple cider is double distilled in the copper pot stills, then sweetened with sugar syrup.Similar to Austrian fruit Schnapps, but quintessentially Tasmanian liqueur, drink as a digestif over ice or use for mixing.

Old Kempton Apple Liqueur (50ml)
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Best Australian Small Batch Single Malt Whisky, 2022 World Whisky Awards

Country

Australia

Primary Region

Tasmania

Availability

National

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