Island life distilled


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By Jen Barwick

There’s no place like home.

But what if your home is a wildlife and nature-reserve rich island located 13.5km off the tip of the Fleurieu Peninsula and your business is making small batch distilled gin, vodka and liqueurs?

Well, quite frankly, you’d be pretty pleased with yourself – as are Jon and Sarah Lark, owners and distillers of KIS, Kangaroo Island Spirits.

The location comes with obvious logistical challenges and transport costs associated with being a regional-based producer, Jon says, but what it lacks in proximity it makes up for in ingredients, marketing, camaraderie and inspiration.

“We chose Kangaroo Island for its remoteness and because we could see its emerging food and wine tourism industry really taking off,” Jon said.

Sarah, who’s originally from Perth, and Jon, from Sydney, met in the central Australian desert while working in remote Aboriginal communities.

“We started to look around for something new. My brother was making whiskey in Tasmania [of Lark Distillery fame] and that seemed to be doing really well so we thought perhaps we could do something with gin and other spirits,” Jon said.

And Kangaroo Island seemed the right fit.

“This time around, we liked the idea of living remote but close enough that we can still duck over to the city and get a Gouger Street-dining fix,” he said.

The couple got their distillery licence in 2006, and opened their cellar door in 2008. The KIS range includes two gins, three vodkas and several liqueurs – but their key ingredient for all products is the booty of native Australian botanicals and locally grown produce found on the Island or nearby Fleurieu Peninsula.


Their gin is a personal favourite for Jon – and the most nationally and internationally awarded – which he describes as “traditional London style with a contemporary twist.”

“In our gin, we still use the common juniper, and some other common ingredients such as coriander and angelica root – but being here allowed us to explore our own KI and Australian botanicals and ingredients.”

Native sources include the local coastal daisy bush-Olearia axillaris, known as wild rosemary; the native succulent samphire; wild fennel seed; Boobialla- Myoporum insulare, a berry native to KI, known as wild Juniper; locally grown lemon and Aniseed myrtles; a native lemon grass (from central Australia) and even the KI-produced Ligurian honey.

The smell of roasting botanicals and tasting bench at their cellar door makes for a memorable sensory experience and the couple are currently working on their own aroma garden, to better show off the unique ingredients in all of their spirits and liqueurs.

“I should also admit, having a name like Kangaroo Island to use is a marketing dream – particularly in export and tourism markets. And it’s not just for the word Kangaroo, but island helps make it a pretty easy leap to beautiful beach vistas, remote landscapes and pristine environment.

“And, having a home-grown community of pretty passionate and talented food and wine producers, as well as the Southern Ocean Lodge on your doorstep to bounce new ideas off and trial new ingredients and products, has been pretty helpful too.”

For more details about Kangaroo Island Spirits go to their website.

Watch Jon Lark speak at the 2016 Regional Summit

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