Distillation Nation: How the Isolated McHenry Distillery is Putting Tasmanian Whisky on the Map
“With a name like William McHenry you should be making whisky.”
A little joke from one neighbour to another some 15 years ago over barbequed sausages planted a seed for William McHenry.
“A seed that finds its way into a concrete crack in the pavement that starts to grow... and refuses to give up.”
With a background in pharmaceuticals and animal health, McHenry was as far removed from the industry as one can get. Still, his science degree gave him the technical skills required to focus on distilling, and he was seduced by the romanticism of whisky as a spirit. This was the perfect later in life career for a man who loved to develop business …. And create things.
“What I really wanted was a legacy business,” explains the dedicated father and husband, referring to what is today McHenry Distillery, a family run establishment that is situated on the side of Mount Arthur on the Tasman Peninsula, making it the southernmost whisky distillery in the world.
Framed by some of the tallest sea cliffs on earth, the McHenry’s chose the location because of the conditions; a cool, moist, maritime environment is perfect for whisky making. (“Think Scotland!” laughs William”)
In fact, with personal access to crystal-clear mineral springs, McHenry and his family have the purest water on tap to make the smoothest, sweetest, and softest whisky the Apple Isle has to offer.
The first milestone of the business was the release of their first whisky, a five-year batch. This year they are poised to release their 10-year-old signature whisky, a rarity in a country where the industry is still in its infancy.
Appreciating the polarising nature of whisky as a spirit - “you either love it or you hate it!” exclaims McHenry - the team saw a market opportunity to branch out very early in the game and started producing vodka and gin as well; to great acclaim.
“Our classic gin was rated by Gourmet Traveler as the best in the country which led to us being asked to provide gin for Parliament House in Canberra – one that captures the “essence” of Australia!”
Beyond the federal government, McHenry is in demand overseas as well, with Japan being the first export market the distillery cracked some six years back. Quickly, their reputation grew as producers of high-quality spirits and, despite a target of 60% export, McHenry soon found he didn’t need to pitch the products at all - buyers were coming to him!
“We’ve exported to Taiwan, Vietnam, Italy, Germany and, prior to COVID, were in serious talks with Scotland and the USA.”
Explaining their popularity overseas, McHenry acknowledges the reputation the state of Tasmania has as a whole as a purveyor of gourmet, artisanal produce in opening doors for their local business.
It was late 2020 when the distillery was approached by Amazon Australia and McHenry saw the opportunity to take control of their rapid growth and to become more active in the online space.
“Logistically, Amazon has incredible advantages,” emphasises McHenry. “Geographically, we are isolated. Our distribution costs are very high. The scale and the infrastructure offered by Amazon Australia allows us to overcome this hurdle immediately.”
Joining Amazon Australia as part of the Launchpad program, the McHenry Distillery can expect best-in-class coaching and support from the Launchpad team who have been responsible for helping to accelerate success for many small Aussie businesses.
While the relationship will initially focus on the Australian domestic market, McHenry cannot wait to expand with Amazon.
“Amazon is the global player. We want to join the game!”
McHenry's is one of the small local businesses featured on the Shop Tasmanian store: www.amazon.com.au/tasmania