Founded in 2016 by David Pearse and Steven Griguol, 5Nines Distillery in the Adelaide Hills of South Australia has bottled three limited-edition single cask whiskies matured in French oak casks seasoned with Spanish PX Sherry, Pinot Noir, and Clare Valley Liqueur Frontignac.
Although the industry only took off in the 90s Australia is rolling out some barrels of impressive, high quality, and justifiably award-winning premium whisky. Sullivan’s Cove’s 2014 Single Cask French Oak was awarded the world’s best single malt whisky at the World Whiskies Awards 2014. Last year, Sydney’s Archie Rose was declared the world’s best rye whisky.
The first legal distillery in Australia opened in Tasmania in 1822. But, because of oppressive restrictions, no whisky was produced in the state between 1838-1990. Most Australian whiskies were made in Victoria. Sydney had two distilleries in the nineteenth century but was more rum-orientated. The first large-scale whisky distillation began in 1863, with John Dunn’s Warrenheip distillery. In 1930, the Distillers Company of Edinburgh (now Diageo) opened the Corio distillery near Geelong. But Australian whisky was universally regarded as universally very low quality until Bill Lark revived the artisanal tradition in a shed near Hobart airport in Tasmania – Australia’s apple isle. His limited release Tokay whisky now retails for $299 (US$230).
Tasmania’s Hellyer’s Road in Burnie was started by a group of dairy farmers. It makes 15-year-old single malt and single malteds as well as Twin Oak single malt. Trapper’s Hut is not a distillery per se, but the label given to the single cask releases from Tasmania Distillery, made between 1999 – 2000, which were bought and aged privately. Tasmania, which now has twenty-two distilleries, also boasts the excellent Cradle Mountain Distillery. Formerly called the Darwin Distillery, Franklin Distillery, and Small Concern Whisky Distilling Co, a bottle of Cradle Mountain costs $500 (US$386).In Victoria, about a half-hour drive from Melbourne is Bakery Hill’s distillery, founded in 1999 by biochemist David Baker. Its whisky is one of the few Australian whiskies that is made in the peated style. Most Australian whisky is matured in ex-bourbon and port barrels. Starward was founded under the name New World Whisky distillery in an old Qantas Airlines hangar. The distillery’s wine cask edition whisky exclusively uses ex-wine casks from the Barossa-wine producing region. Many Australian whiskies use brewing barley instead of traditional distilling barley. Overeem’s signature whisky expressions (Sherry Cask Matured, Port Cask Matured & Bourbon Matured) are also available in cask strength versions. Its 43% Port Matured is a superbly made Australian whisky.
Victoria also boasts Josh and Caitlin Walkers Timboon Railway Shed Distillery, makers of Christie’s Cut Whisky named after Detective Inspector Christie, the bodyguard to Prince Alfred who was hired by the government to stamp out the illegal distilling practices of bootlegger Tom Delaney in Timboon.
Western Australia has Cameron Syme’s Limburners which uses peat from the Valley of the Giants and grain from the Great Southern Region. Its Darkest Winter retails for A$335/US $260 and Director’s Cut Peated US$282. The Great Southern Distillery also makes sour mash cask strength 64.8% “Tiger Snake” whisky which is sadly not available in the US although the raisiny, sticky date pudding and crème Brulee “Peated Port Cask” made on the edge of Princess Royal Harbour is worth finding.
Whipper Snapper Distillery is based in Perth and run by brother-in-laws Alasdair Malloch and Jimmy McKeown. Their most popular whisky is “Upshot”.
Most distilleries in Queensland are dedicated to rum production. Mark Watkins’ Mt Uncle Distillery is perhaps the best.
Whisky has to spend a minimum of two years in barrels in Australia, compared to Scotch which has to age for a minimum of three years. Whiskies mature more quickly in Australia as opposed to Scotland due to the warmer climate which “makes the barrels breathe more”. This leads to Australian whisky developing more complex flavors at a younger age than its better-known Scottish counterparts. Down under is the place to seek the top whiskies.