Damian Mackey grew up in the family pub in Latrobe on Tasmania’s north-west coast. His grandfather Harry was a big whisky fan, and working behind the bar at Mackey’s Royal Hotel was his first introduction to whisky. In 1992, he began work as a graduate surveyor for Bill and Lyn Lark. Damian spent a fair bit of time in the Lark’s rumpus room drawing up survey maps, as a copper pot still bubbled away in the corner. He was hooked.
In 2007 when Damian and Madeleine established Mackey’s Distillery and their eponymous whisky brand, they gave a nod to their Irish ancestry. There were just a handful of Tassie distilleries in those days, and none were producing triple distilled whisky. The first six-year old Mackey Whisky casks, released in 2015, quickly gained international recognition, and the Mackeys realised that supply was going to be the issue. They upscaled their operation and moved to Shene Distillery at Pontville. Here, with Damian at the helm, they continued to produce award-winning whisky (and gin), but in bigger volumes. In 2018, prior to the sale of Shene to Lark, Damian and Madeleine sold their shareholding.
What followed was a deeper dive into Irish whiskey’s culture. They returned to Ireland, and were struck by an industry transforming itself. In 2011 when they had visited, there had been just the three Irish distilleries; but in 2019 there were nearly 40, and most of them were producing single pot still whiskey. Clearly, people around the world were falling back in love with what was once the world’s favourite whiskey.
Since then, they have been quietly laying down casks of Tasmanian pot still whisky in their production-only distillery in Hobart. Next year, they will release Hunter Island Whisky at their new home on Hobart’s waterfront.