Micky Mouse whisky

page 286

The second biggest rouge in Tasmanian whisky

Robert Hosken convinced the publisher to redact about half of the interview I wrote about him—a significant part of the redactions being things he said to me himself, often repeatedly, that are all on tape. The full, un-redacted text is published below.

The Corrected Text

The first thing Robert Hosken told me was that, very soon, there would be a flying car.

And he had had a crack at designing one himself, he said, but ever-impatient, he also told me that in the meantime he drives a car that is faster than a plane. I would love to share the details of that car with you, but during subsequent negotiations I agreed not to say anything more about his car.

Beginning as an engineer, from engineer to property developer—but, note well, 'only interested in doing new things that create new boundaries'—Hosken certainly needs speed because at over 70 years of age he still starts every morning at 5.30 am, pauses only at 5.30pm, but often holds meetings after that. Asked for a drinking story, he says he doesn’t drink whisky anymore because ‘it interferes with my ability to think and get things done. I don’t drink full stop.’

On his concept for the Tasmania Distillery Robert Hosken told me he was certainly not interested in following the Scots, who he characterised as ‘A bunch of fucking losers, in every sense of the word.' and, moreover, 'I proved that the way they make whisky in Scotland—or wherever else in the world [he added later] they’re still shit! They're never going to make the best whisky in the world.’ Copy them and 'You are going to be as average as they have ended up to be.'

He explained himself as ‘on a different wavelength’ and ‘I didn’t want anyone telling me what to do.’ 

'History is bunk. All it tells you is what not to do. If you want to do something out of the ordinary, look to some other principle.’ Say, perhaps, automotive engineering. If, for example, Hosken was going to build a ship: he would study aeronautics. 

Hosken also considers that ‘Everything we do in this funny little island is Micky Mouse Club. It annoys me. I wanted to prove that we in Tasmania can produce the best whisky in the world. And I did. So, I have a quiet giggle to myself when people say Bill is the grandfather of whisky in Tasmania because quite frankly he isn’t. I am grateful to them [Bill and Lyn] for helping me. They were good, responsible people, but there is no doubt that I was distilling whisky before they came there. Did they have a licence before me? Really? I had no idea.’

Hosken is an ideas man clever at seeing a business opportunity and he has not finished with distilling. Reported decades ago as saying “If someone asked me if I would do that amount of work and take that amount of risk a second time, I would say no.” Looking back on it, he told me, ‘I consider myself to have pioneered how to make the best whisky in the world. After that, I was done.’ But in 2016 he also told me that he had revitalised the original big idea that he held from the beginning: to set up a distillery four times bigger. Presumably built around a 10 000 litre still, he claims he has it good to go. ‘It is massive. All I have to do, when I find the right premises, is bolt it together. And again, my whole idea is to make the best whisky and the best food products in the world.’

Hosken frequently portrays himself as a Hercules. He dug out the stables himself. He made the still. He put the equipment in. He began distilling the world’s best whisky. Swapping lionskin for suit (and in fact always sartorially attired), swaggering with all the belligerence and braggadocio of a Trump—with his temperamental volatility thrown it, never lost for words and a fantastic storyteller, Robert Hosken may just be too imaginative. Later he told me he did none of the distilling.

Hosken advertised whisky as an “age-old symbol of freedom” and for pioneers there are no rules, but there are laws. Cloaking his whisky bottles with an appearance of tradition and quality, Hosken in deed gave the infant industry a reputation for deceptiveness and inferiority. Because he mislabelled products for commercial gain Hosken is to some a whisky rogue and they will not forgive him. To those who regard whisky as being all about place, with the stroke of his own pen Hosken betrayed both Scotland and Tasmania, becoming a traitor even to himself. Hosken has argued that the ACCC case was slight—a mere hiccup, he said at the time—but when I raised the investigation with him he told me it was probably the most embarrassing thing that had happened to him, and it appeared to me that he has paid for his transitory act of long ago in mortifying humiliation ever since. To this day snubbed by the industry, his achievements deserve better recognition.

Not one of the dozen distilleries subsequently founded (aside from Hellyers Road) began so ambitiously. His distillery was not only the biggest by far in its day but for many years after. His was the first commercial distillery: he had a dedicated, commercial premises with a shop selling whisky more than a year before the others. He was the first to offer barrel investment, a scheme upon which several distilleries have subsequently relied. He built a still that was (twenty years later) still in full use. He initiated the filling of raw American oak casks. He developed Lyn and (after he sold up) Bill Lark, Kristy Lark, Patrick Maguire and others. They all experienced working in a whisky distillery on a scale available no-where else in the nation. He recognised and drew upon the tradition of colonial whisky makers and his re-purposing of a heritage building into a distillery was the Tasmanian originator of the tourist distillery. Nant, Redlands and Shene all copied his idea. It is no surprise he sold up for an excellent price. Most impressively, from the distillery that he founded in the still he commissioned and built, came forth (albeit, several years after he sold his Works) a world’s best single malt whisky. Respect.

The full account of Hosken’s illegal enterprise is at Fake Whisky

Bernard LloydComment