Satya (Sash) Sharma is an experienced spirits executive, who spent 10 years with William Grant & Sons, building export markets – most recently in Singapore – before becoming the CEO of Lark Distilling Co in May of last year.

The Shout sat down to talk with Sharma recently, and what followed was a two-hour conversation that covered a range of topics including new markets, what defines Lark, Tasmania and Australian whisky and many others. Subsequently this is the first in a series of stories that will share Sharma’s thoughts, knowledge and vision on these subjects.

Sharma’s first 12 months have seen new export markets opened up, but he has also driven the team in looking at what Lark represents both domestically and internationally and how to engage these different markets.

“Since I walked in there’s been a couple of things that I have been quite persistent on and that’s making sure that we are a Tasmanian, but [also] Australian-only play, and making sure that what we make resonates with an international audience,” Sharma told The Shout.

“I think we have some amazing stories to tell, we’ve got an amazing community, if you really boil down what we’ve got – there’s a really important sense of place in Tasmania, we’ve got amazing people those attached to the brand, the distillers, people who put their heart and soul into the company.

Bill Lark and Peter Gilmour
Bill Lark and Peter Gilmour

“They go alongside Bill and Lyn, Lyn is a powerhouse and Bill and Lyn should always be talked about together and they have an amazing story themselves. And then you’ve got Chris [Thompson], and his view on flavour, things that we can do that Scotland can’t do, I think Chris looks at that like a challenge and says ‘we’ve got an amazing place with wonderful people and I get to play with some of the best casks in the world and without the handcuffs the can restrict other areas’.

“I’m really excited about what the possibility of Lark can be. I’m getting through the understanding of the business, and addressing some of the priorities. I’ve also spent some time working through what are those priorities and looking at this in terms of ‘what is it that we are trying to do?’.”

“What is Lark synonymous with? It’s synonymous with quality, it’s synonymous with Bill and Lyn, it’s a leader, it’s an entrepreneur, it’s a boundary pusher.

Sash Sharma

There is a calm excitement about Sharma as he talks to what Lark is, and his vision for what Lark can be. Bill and Lyn Lark are the pioneers of the modern Australian whisky and the craft spirits movement, something that Sharma is very aware of and is clearly very keen to share with the rest of the world in the right way.

He said: “Building brand equity is the first key priority for us, that’s the guts of the business. Lark is what Lark is today because of the equity it has built over the last 32 years. We need to make sure we know what we stand for and how that translates across the world.

“We do [feel the responsibility of leading], but we are tiny, but also the name of Lark is important. It is known within the connoisseur communities, and our job is broadening that. So things like we are doing with our new Brand Ambassador Peter Gilmour help broaden our appeal and bringing new audiences in.

“We’ve opened new markets, Singapore, Indonesia, Phillippines, Malaysia, and without question the liquid has been called ‘fantastic’. They’ve often said ‘oh new world whisky, if you’d come to us two years ago we would have thought new world whisky meant Kavalan’, and that’s pretty much all anyone knew in Asia.”

Lark Whisky

Broadening Lark’s reach in new export markets is something Sharma talks about a lot and it is clearly a key priority for the business, and Sharma explained to The Shout some of the reasons behind that focus.

“[We need to look at] building momentum internationally and protecting who we are domestically.

“More so than ever, most brands in Australia are Australian home-market brands. That gives you exposure to a lack of diversified revenue streams, it puts you as a domestic-only offering as opposed to being a global brand – of course there is nothing wrong with being an Australian-only brand – but for us a key tenant is international sales momentum, domestic leadership and in the time that I have been here global travel retail has become really important.

“This means that we’ve got people coming through Australia and leaving Australia who are interacting with our brands. They are a vetted audience – they can afford a ticket – and usually on departure they have got time, and that’s a great time for us to be telling our story.”

If you try to out-Scotch, Scotch, you’ll fail

Sash Sharma

A great example of that story-telling comes with the recent launch of Dark Lark, as Sharma explained: “We’ve recently launched Dark Lark and that is a whisky for the night. It’s a beautiful product, unexpectedly smooth and that brings people in, it widens the audience.

“But it also talks to terroir, it talks to the clear skies that Tassie has and plays into something we can scale, which is what the goal is.

“Tasmania gives us some incredible ingredients that we can take and do some really interesting things, for the world, because if you try to out-Scotch, Scotch you’ll fail and we have to have our own identity.

“That’s what Lark has opportunity/right to do and that is, frankly, why I have joined; it’s taking Lark to the world – it’s an exciting opportunity.”

Stay tuned for more from Sharma including Lark’s role in the rising tide of Australian spirits and capital management for the business.

Andy Young

Andy joined Intermedia as Editor of The Shout in 2015, writing news on a daily basis and also writing features for National Liquor News. Now Managing Editor of both The Shout and Bars and Clubs.

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