Chinotto Whisky? Lark's Chris Thompson Gives Us The Low-Down On Their New Release

Chinotto Whisky? Lark's Chris Thompson Gives Us The Low-Down On Their New Release
After tasting Lark's new Chinotto Cask Single Malt Whisky, we sat down with the Lark Head Distiller, Chris Thompson, to get the inside scoop on this intriguing dram. 

Lark Distillery are heralded for being the founders of Australia’s modern distilling Renaissance. They were the first new distillery in Tasmania for 154 years when they were established in 1992. Nevertheless, despite their veteran status, they have maintained their curiosity and desire for innovation, as shown by their Limited Edition Chinotto Cask (which you can buy here).

If you’ve never heard of Chinotto - it’s a kind of Italian soft drink, produced using bitter citrus and spices. Think of it as cola for adults.

See our Whisky Experts' Review here:

After tasting this delicious dram, we sat down with Lark’s Head Distiller, Chris Thompson, to get the inside scoop on this intriguing whisky.

Whisky Loot: A Chinotto seasoned cask is certainly one of the most fascinating maturations we’ve heard of over here at Whisky Loot - it instantly captured our attention. What inspired that moment of creativity? Where did the idea come from?

Chris Thompson: I have a friend who runs a small digestif company (called Osare) with a massive passion for Italian spirits. I was trying some of his spirits and he gave me a glass of this cola syrup stuff and asked me what I thought. That was a few years back I reckon. I was working though some cask tastings and it all just clicked in my mind. That whisky will go with that perfectly with that cola syrup stuff. I called him up and we argued about what I had tasted as I couldn’t remember what it was called, which I think was pretty funny.

WL: We’re big fans of Chinotto ourselves, but it is certainly not the most popular of soft drinks, what made you choose Chinotto ahead of other sodas? What do you think it brings to a whisky?

CT: It all just happened. I tasted the whisky and it all just came together in my head. It wasn’t something I made the whisky fit around, they were perfect for each other.

WL: There has been the odd Ginger Beer cask single malt, but using soda casks for whisky aging is still extremely rare, do you feel this style of maturation represents a previously unexplored area for the industry, beyond the traditional fortified wine and Bourbon choices?

In particular, do you think this expression is representative of the way Australian distilleries are starting to look beyond Scottish, American and Japanese whisky traditions?

CT: It is definitely an unexplored area. I’d like to think of this release building on top of what the Scots have done, but playing on themes we all know but through a different lens or medium. If that kind of makes sense...
As more distilleries come online here is Australia we are going to see more and more innovation which definitely excites me.
Image of Lark Chinotto Cask With Sliced Citrus

WL: The casks for this whisky were “seasoned” with Chinotto. Our readers might not be so familiar with this process, could you say a little more about the nuts and bolts of seasoning a whisky cask with a soft drink?
CT: So firstly, this was a very difficult process.
We oven roasted citrus and spices for weeks under the eyes of our friends at Osare. The citrus and spices were then put into a sugar syrup to soak for a few months. The solids were then separated from the liquid and the liquid was then put into casks. Once the casks have soaked up the Chinotto then we emptied them and finished whisky in them.

WL: Is this a one-off from Lark, or are we likely to see another Chinotto cask whisky in the future, or another left-field cask maturation choice?

CT: We will likely do Chinotto again, not sure when, but it will be back. We definitely have some other left field releases coming up. Best keep your eyes out or join our mailing list, these releases seem to be selling very fast.
WL: Exciting stuff! So, some of our readers have been drinking whisky with us for years, and are certainly going to want to know some of the finer details - here are the hard, fast and geeky questions...

Approximate age of the whisky?
Very young for us. We wanted some peat to punch through, but as our whisky ages the peat becomes less prevalent so we used much, much younger whisky for this one. Around three years old in 100 litre first fill casks.
How much of this time did the spirit spend in Chinotto seasoned casks?
Around two months.
What other casks (if any) were used in the aging process?
The original whiskies had been aged in lighter influenced port, sherry and bourbon casks. The Chinotto went into second fill port casks if I remember correctly…
It’s certainly interesting to see a heavily peated whisky from the House of Lark. What is the ppm on this release?
We never tested the PPM [parts per million, read more here] of the whisky, but I can say the peat is there but it isn’t an Islay-style level of smokiness. Hopefully that kind of PPM is on its way...

Some seriously interesting and exciting answers there from Chris. Grab a bottle of the Chinotto cask here, and keep your eyes peeled for more innovative releases from Lark on the Whisky Loot store...

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