Nant Whisky brand vital to Lark Distilling: MD

ASX-listed Lark Distilling Co remains committed to the Nant Whisky brand now that its controversial barrel investment scheme has been concluded, managing director Geoff Bainbridge has confirmed.

Bainbridge last week revealed why Lark Distilling Co – formerly Australian Whisky Holdings (AWH) – had decided to exit its investments in Tasmanian whisky brands Overeem and Old Kempton.

In part two of his exclusive interview with Drinks Adventures, he said it is a different story for the Nant brand, which remains core to the Lark Distilling business.

“We’ve consciously decided to keep Nant, so we’re not looking to offload it at all,” he said.

“Nant for us is really important because it is a tactical brand. Lark we hope will become the Penfolds of Australian whisky, so it needs to be protected.

“It needs a big brother… something to act as a blocker.”

Barrel scheme fiasco
However, Bainbridge said AWH should never have gotten involved with the barrel investment scheme when it acquired the Nant assets in 2017.

“AWH stepping into the middle of that was not a smart move. It’s a move that I inherited,” he said.

“Would I have made that same play? Almost certainly not.

“What I was able to do with the board, is get agreement that the best thing we could do is bring the investment barrel scheme to a close and give everybody certainty over what barrel they’ve got and what it’s worth.”

Nant Whisky, part of the Lark Distilling Co portfolio
Nant Whisky, part of the Lark Distilling Co portfolio

Bainbridge said it is understandable that investors remain aggrieved, and that some of that anger has been levelled at AWH.

“Anyone who’s lost money in an investment scheme through fraud and theft, I couldn’t say that they’re unfair in their feelings and their emotions. I’m very empathetic to them,” he said.

“If anything, AWH held out light at the end of the tunnel for a bunch of these individuals who thought they’d lost everything and then had this hope that they might recover it.

“AWH hadn’t performed its role in really explaining to each individual, ‘where is your barrel at? What have you got in your barrel? What is your barrel worth?’

“So I understand why people are angry and I understand why some of that anger is directed at us.

“They might have formed a view that we were a commercial enterprise that underbid them on their whisky,” Bainbridge said.

“That was their option. We made them an offer for their whisky or said, ‘you can take your whisky back. It’s up to you. We’re not going to force you to sell to us’.

“That was a difficult process. But what it allowed us to do, is get the anxiety and the uncertainty out of the business.”

Nant volumes up
Lark Distilling Co recently announced to the ASX that it had acquired a total of 42,777 litres of Nant Whisky from barrel investors.

Meanwhile, the Nant distillery has increased production volumes of whisky over the last 12 months.

“When I came on board Nant was probably laying down about 55,000 litres a year,” Bainbridge said.

“Without any significant capital investment, we’ve been able to get it up to about 78,000 litres a year.

“Some of that will be released as Nant Whisky and some of it will be released as a Tasmanian blend.”

Lark Distilling Co has targeted July 2020 for the release of its first blended malt whisky, comprising spirit from three Tasmanian distilleries.

See Part One of the interview with Geoff Bainbridge here.

On The Podcast:
Tasmanian Independent Bottlers and Heartwood with founder Tim Duckett: S3E8
Bakery Hill whisky celebrates 20 years: S3E2
Australian whisky innovation with Archie Rose’s Dave Withers: S3E7

Author: James Atkinson

Journalist specialising in the food, drink, travel and hospitality arenas. Australian International Beer Awards 2017 Media Award Winner and Certified Cicerone®.

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